Finally having had a chance to see this film was a delight! In the film community, Nicolas Winding Refn is a name people associate with the strange and the ultra-violent. That's only a fraction of it though. Of course he made a name for himself when he made the Tom Hardy picture, Bronson. But then it began to fizzle out; until he came out with a little stand alone flick called "Drive" starring one of Hollywood's hottest and biggest bankable names - Ryan Gosling. It really did become a cult hit almost immediately! I've heard and read that it's pretty much a given, that at some point in their filmmaking career, one will experience a film of theirs becoming a flop.
There will be Some that could argue that his follow up Ryan Gosling collaboration entitled "Only God Forgives" was a polarizing film. Either you loved it, or you hated it. But if you went back and researched the results. It didn't do well, not just amongst critics, but audiences as well. Personally I enjoyed! Would I ever name it one of my all time favorites? Eh. But I thought it was a very strong film. The narrative was simple and I think that's why people weren't responding to it. It was just incredibly straight forward. And like all Nicolas Winding Refn films, its buffet of visuals were unsurpassed and undisputed. I believe that is Nicolas' strongest point as a filmmaker. He draws you in with his eye for beauty and what he shows you within the frame. And then once you're in, and you have found yourself wrapped up in the movie, it is completely up to you what you make of it. He never actually comes out and tells you plainly what the movie is about. Because I think if you go around and ask other people who have seen his films what they were about, they'd all have something different to say. The Neon Demon is no exception.
The plot is simple. A young girl by the name of Jesse moves to the big city (by the looks of it, L.A.) in search of becoming a model. Her big wide doe eyes really accentuate and convey her innocence the first time we meet her. As she makes her way through the business and meeting people in the industry, they are instantaneously taken with the purity they see in her beauty. Nothing fake about her. Nothing to dig through and nothing tainted. She is as pure, as they say, as the driven snow. It doesn't take long before some of the other models, who have had a chance to meet Jesse, decide they hate her. Not dislike her - Hate. So a plot transpires to ruin her and end her. Don't worry, I'm not giving anything away that isn't already in the trailer. To Me: This movie is clearly a morality tale about how far someone is willing to go to remain relevant, to gain beauty, success. And at what cost?
And fascinatingly enough there's this re-occurring theme about consumption - in a film about models! Who would've thought! However it's not really food they are interested in consuming into their bodies. Now one (those of you who aren't use to zombie flicks) would watch this going on in this movie and may find it repulsive or disturbing. But once you let the subtext wash over you, it's not difficult to see what it's about. The next thing that is hard not to notice is the sexuality. It's another theme that is pretty self-evident through out the film. Once again though, the subtext. You have many characters who live a rather hollow life style. Nothing with no real meaning to believe in other than what's on the surface. The topic of the necrophilia scene is certainly making its rounds through reviews and what critics touch base on. I mean come on - It's not really something you always see in the movies. So clearly it's gonna be an attention getter of a moment in a film. However, they never really get into it other than just to blurt out the word NECROPHILIA! And then they move on. Yes a character performs sexual acts with a fresh corpse in a morgue. I won't delve into the Why of it happening or the specifics because I'd love for all of you to see the film and make up your own minds as to what it's all about. But I will say, for me, psychologically speaking, it's a simple case of misplaced feelings...granted they are grotesquely misplaced feelings. But they are misplaced nonetheless. So much subtext and commentary though about success, beauty, sex, culture, morality. All buried beneath the bedrock of horror and drama!
In an interview Nicolas Winding Refn was asked if the movie had anything to do with his fear of women, seeing as much of the cast Are women. But Nicolas corrected the interviewer and simply said that if anything the movie is about his Obsession with women. Which I found fascinating. And yet the cast members all had different answers as to what they thought The Neon Demon was. The cast was phenomenal! From anyone who had a smaller part like Keanu Reeves (Who by the way just about stole the movie! He really sunk his teeth into that character and savored every bit of it), to rising star Elle Fanning (yes, the sister of mega-star Dakota Fanning) who really went for it with this role! If you remember back to the role she had in the J.J. Abrams sci-fi action movie Super 8, and then watch her in this film, it's a far cry from what she had done in the past. This role and film was a hugely daring one for her. And I feel she went for it like a rock star! Even Jena Malone (Whom I'm sure we all remember her in a little movie called Donnie Darko. Or if you want to go forward a little bit in time, Sucker Punch) went for it in this film! She took it as far as she could, and would. And it blew me away! I gain so much more respect for artists who are ballsy enough to cast aside what is thought of them and to do something completely different.
Nicolas Winding Refn is of course a visionary filmmaker, there's no disputing that - Ever! Whether you enjoy his films or not. Or understand his films or not. You just can't get around the film that he has an unmatched ability to mesh beauty and horror in the same frame. There were a lot of disturbing things happening in this film but damn if he didn't make it all look so elegantly dangerous and hypnotic! And Cliff Martinez - an extremely notable film score composer if there ever was one! This is his third collaboration with Nicolas, and each time he manages to bring something inherently unique musically to the table. His music in this film was a blissful combination of dream-like, innocent and menacing. And I enjoyed every minute of it. So much so that I intend on buying the soundtrack! I think I've raved about this film enough. I will end it simply by saying - If you're lucky enough to be near a movie theater that is exhibiting it, don't hesitate to check it out. Otherwise, even if you wait to see digitally, or by Blu-ray or DVD, it will have been worth the wait to see it in the future!
Neon Demon Movie Review
by Phillip Wilcox "Our Movie Demon"